Why Is My Turtle Floating?

Why Is My Turtle Floating

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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ALERT! The floating of your pet turtle might be more severe than you can imagine. Of course, there can be other minor reasons why your turtle is floating. But it will not hurt to handle this situation with extra care and attention.

Your turtle might be floating due to any of the following reasons,

  1. The turtle is suffering from gastrointestinal problems, such as gas.
  2. Floating may indicate that the turtle has a respiratory illness.

When the floating of a turtle is normal? What to do if your turtle is floating and can not dive back underwater? Find out all the answers in the following article.

Why Is My Turtle Floating?

Your turtle may float on the tank water surface for 2 probable reasons. Such as,

  1. Gastrointestinal issue
  2. Respiratory illness

While the gastrointestinal issue is not so severe, respiratory illness definitely is. No matter what, if you ignore the conditions, they can cause serious health damage to the turtle.

Gastrointestinal Issue

Gastrointestinal issues like gas build up is a common reason why your turtle floats. The gas trapped in the tract will make the turtle body buoyant. It means the pet will be unable to dive underwater and float like a balloon.

Two things are responsible for gas accumulation in a turtle’s body. Such as,

  1. Newly introduced food in the diet
  2. Medicine consumption

A change in diet will make your turtle go back to the usual life. Some commercial anti-oxidant enriched food items are also suggested in this condition. In most gas build up cases, the turtles heal on their own.

Though gas accumulation or gastrointestinal issues are not severe for the captive turtles, it is a curse for the wild ones. The wild turtles depend on the herbs around or they have to hunt for food. With a bloated body, both the situation is tough for the turtles.

For the aquatic turtles, this health condition is worse as they depend on the food in the water. The turtles can not dive in to hunt and thus starve to death. Also, the floating turtles are the easiest prey for the shark, whale, and alligators because they are in no condition of fighting.

In the wild, the gas build up occurs due to the consumption of marine debris. It blocks the gastrointestinal tract and causes indigestion. The trapped gas is the reason why the creatures float.

Respiratory Illness

Unlike the gastrointestinal issue, respiratory illness is severe. Even this sickness can be life threatening if it goes untreated. This is the reason I suggest paying extra attention to the floating turtle. 

Why do turtles with respiratory sickness float? Well, like us humans and most other animals, turtles have lungs for breathing purposes. When the bacteria, fungus, or virus attack their lungs, they swell up, and thus, the respiratory infection occurs. One of the main signs of respiratory illness is the refusal of swimming. The turtle will rather float than swimming underwater.

What Is Respiratory Illness In Turtles

What Is Respiratory Illness In Turtles?

I have already mentioned that respiratory infection is the outcome of a bacterial, fungal, or virus attack on the turtle’s lung. Sometimes seasonal coughs and colds can lead to respiratory disease. Without proper care and treatment, this condition can get worse, and even life threatening for the turtles.

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I personally make the owner responsible for the respiratory illness in turtles. The pets suffer from this severe disease due to their ignorance or carelessness. Here are the reasons that can lead to respiratory infection,

  • The low temperature in the enclosure
  • Improper UV light
  • Poor diet and malnutrition
  • Filthy terrarium

Low Temperature

Most respiratory cases occur due to the lack of heat or the low enclosure temperature. You know turtles are ectothermic and can not generate heat. They depend on the surroundings to regulate their body temperature. So, the temperature of the enclosure plays a great significance in their health.

It can be the cold water or the chilly basking dock, the turtle will catch a cold. Also, a drafty window/door or a fan blowing over the enclosure can be responsible for the cold. The sneezing and coughing will soon turn into a respiratory infection. What temperature is considered low for a turtle? Follow the chart given below.

Suitable enclosure temperature for turtles:

Water TemperatureBasking TemperatureAir Temperature
70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit   Or   21 ro 26.7 degrees Celcius85 to 95 degrees Farenheit   Or   29.3 to 35 degrees Celcius75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit   Or 23.9 to 29.4 degrees Celcius

This temperature may differ depending on your turtle species. Also, for the nighttime, a 5 degrees Fahrenheit drop in temperature will help the turtle have a good sleep.

Improper UV Light

You know the importance of UV rays in a turtle’s health. While the UVA exposures chill the pet’s mood and increase its eyesight, the UVB ensures the healthy growth of the bone and shell. In the wild, the sun is the main source of UV rays. But in captivity, UV lights are the only option.

The lack of UV rays or improper settings can cause mental and physical illness in turtles. And respiratory infection is one of them. The lackings of UV exposure hamper their healthy growth and immunity development. So, the chance of bacterial, fungal, or virus attacks increases.

Poor Diet And Malnutrition

An imbalanced diet, especially the lack of vitamin A is responsible for respiratory infection. You can not deny the importance of vitamin A in a turtle’s health. It improves their eyesight, keeps them away from eye infections, and builds up strong immunity. As the presence of this vitamin offers so much, the lack of it will also cause severe damage.

Insufficient vitamin A in the turtle’s diet or system will lower their immunity. So, they can not fight off the germs and bacterias that attack them. Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of having a respiratory infection.

Filthy Terrarium

What can be a better place for the germs to spread than a filthy enclosure? The moist inside the terrarium with a considerable amount of heat is just perfect for the bacteria, fungus, and virus. You know turtles are messy creatures. Most germs come from their poop.

If you avoid cleaning the turtle enclosure weekly, the germs will start impacting the turtle’s health. A respiratory attack is no surprise in a filthy enclosure. Not only that, shell rot, skin infection, or other severe diseases can be on the list due to dirty tanks.

Symptoms Of Respiratory Infection

Floating is obviously a sign that something is wrong with your turtle. If the turtle is suffering from respiratory infection, it will show some symptoms, besides floating on the water surface. Such as,

  • The turtle will float from side to side
  • Bubbles and mucus discharge from mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Swollen eyes
  • Staying in the basing dock more than usual
  • Trouble breathing or open mouth breathing
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Look for these signs in your floating turtle. Even if you find one, take the pet to the vet for proper treatment.

Are Respiratory Infections In Turtles Curable?

To be honest, if you can find out the condition at the primary stage, your turtle can be cured. Otherwise, there is always a risk of health damage or death. No matter what your turtle’s condition is, you must take it to the expert.

You also need to do some changes to the turtle’s tank setup and lifestyle. Such as,

  • Rearrange the heating arrangement inside the enclosure. A heating lamp for air and land temperature, and a tank heater for the water temperature, are two essentials. Keep a sharp eye on the temperature and maintain the suitable temperature according to the turtle species.
  • The tank temperature should not fall below 60 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the turtles prepare for hibernation. Slowing down metabolism in the floating state with a respiratory infection will be the worst for the turtle.
  • Do not place the tank in a chilly room. Also, close all the ways for cold drafts entering the room.
  • You can not ignore the UV lights. One with good quality will assure long lasting service. Keep the bulb on for 10 to 12 hours a day and keep it off the whole night. For the best UV lights list and a proper setup guide, click here.
  • High humidity is required for fast curing. You can manipulate the humidity level by covering the tank with a towel or a case. The humidity should be around 75%.
  • A balanced diet will boost the recovery process of your turtle, especially the Vitamin A enriched items. Carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, and sweet potatoes contain a considerable amount of Vitamin A. Sometimes, vets suggest vitamin A shots or antibiotics too.
  • Focus on keeping the enclosure clean for the turtle. For water, a tank filter can be the best. Change the water thrice a month and clean the whole tank at least once a month.

Prevention Of Respiratory Illness

You do not want your turtle floating on the tank surface with a life threatening disease, right? So, take precautions to prevent the situation. With a little push in the routine, you can keep your pet healthy. Here are the tips that will help you preventing respiratory illness:

  • Set up a basking lamp or heating lamp in the enclosure. The dock temperature should be around 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the UV lamp on for 10 to 12 hours a day.
  • The water temperature should be around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and never fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Installing a water heater is a must.
  • Maintain a moisture level of around 60 to 75% inside the tank.
  • Get a tank water filter for the enclosure. Besides, clean the tank once a month at least.
  • A balanced diet with all minerals and nutrients will keep your pet healthy and boost its immunity.
Why Is My Baby Turtle Floating

Why Is My Baby Turtle Floating?

If your baby turtle is floating for several days, it may have a respiratory illness. The babies can not escape this severe disease. Even the hatchlings and juveniles are more likely to get a respiratory infection. It is because both their immunity system and body have not been developed properly.

The babies get most affected by this severe disease. Yet, most of the vets do not want to give treatment to the hatchlings. Because it is hard to give the juveniles the right amount of doses. And there is a high risk of death.

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But do not worry. You can always try a home remedy as an alternative. First, determine the disease, then start the treatment immediately. Follow the signs of the respiratory infection I have discussed in the previous section to find out if the symptoms fit. Here is what you should do:

  • Remove the basking dock from the enclosure. The whole treatment should be completed by keeping your baby turtle in the water.
  • Lower the water level in such a manner that the hatchling can stand on the tank floor surrounded by water. The water should almost cover the top shell. Make sure the baby can bob its head for air.
  • Raise the temperature to 83.6 to 84.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This way the water will work as a blanket and keep your hatchling warm.
  • A clean tank and water are a must. Replace 25% of the water every two days. Do not place your turtle into the water until the temperature gets to 83 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cover the top of the tank to trap the humidity around 75%.
  • A balanced diet with vitamin A is still necessary.
  • In case of any mucous discharge, clean the turtle gently.
  • Continue the process for 4 to 5 days and you will notice some progress in the pet’s health. If it starts swimming and diving, change the setups to the traditional ways.
  • Consult a vet for more guidance.

Why Is My Turtle Floating Sideways?

Are you noticing your turtle bobbing side to side? Or is it floating tilted towards one side? In both cases, your turtle is probably suffering from a respiratory infection. And the sideways floating indicates a more severe stage of this disease.

You already know the causes, signs, and treatment of the respiratory disease. If the infection goes untreated, it may lead to pneumonia in the turtle. As the fluid will fill up the lung, the turtle will have trouble breathing and the disease will alter its buoyancy. Thus the pet can not submerge or dive into the water and float tilted sideways.

Why Is My Turtle Floating Upside Down?

Sometimes a healthy turtle flips itself and floats on the water. But after a while, it will get back to its normal orientation. If it is the case with your turtle, then do not worry. Just to be sure, go for a health check up of the pet.

However, floating upside down or floating on the back can be bad in some cases. If your turtle can not go back to its usual position or unable to swim underwater and stay on the dock for more time, then something is wrong. Experts suggest 2 possible causes behind this behavior. Such as,

  1. Improper housing
  2. Respiratory infection

Check the water level, UV and heating light set up, water heater temperature, and cleanliness of the tank. Fix if anything is mismanaged. Ensure a proper diet for the turtle according to its species. If you do not observe any progress, then consult an expert.

When Should You Worry?

A healthy turtle floats sometimes just to pass its boring time. You can not freak out about it. How will you know when to worry?

Well, if your turtle is floating evenly, and poking its head out, then it is normal. To be sure, push your turtle underwater a little. If the pet pops up like a balloon, then you have to take immediate actions to treat the turtle.


I always say turtles are weird yet interesting creatures. The floating can be the indication of either chilling or a health condition. But staying a bit alert and doing checkups in case of doubt will do no harm.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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